German doctors warn of surge in common colds

German health experts say there's a sharp rise in people - especially children - picking up infections like common colds and other respiratory illnesses due to lower levels of social contact during the Covid lockdowns.

A woman sneezes into a tissue. Doctors in Germany say there's an increase in people getting common colds and other respiratory infections.
A woman sneezes into a tissue. Doctors in Germany say there's an increase in people getting common colds and other respiratory infections. Photo: picture alliance / Christina Sabrowsky/dpa | Christina Sabrowsky

As well as being linked to the colder weather, the head of the German GP Association (Deutscher Hausärzteverband) said it is partly down to the population having weaker immunity to viruses after restricting social contact during the Covid shutdown. 

“This is also due to the fact that people had hardly any contact with various viruses for one and a half years because of the Corona restrictions,” chairman Ulrich Weigeldt told the Passauer Neue Presse on Thursday.

“To that extent, their immune system is not well trained against many viruses that we normally cope with well. As a result, colds are more prevalent. So the lockdowns have not only brought advantages.”

Weigeldt said Germany is seeing more infectious diseases spreading among children in particular, because they have had less exposure to viruses. 

He said teachers and adults are often passing viruses on to children. Weigeldt is therefore in favour of “compulsory vaccination for such professional groups”.

Getting rid of compulsory face masks in schools has emerged as a contentious topic in Germany. Some states are allowing pupils to ditch their masks, while others are keeping the rule. 


Weigeldt spoke out in favour of getting rid of compulsory face masks in schools – at least for younger children. Instead, he says adults need to take responsibility – and that’s why he is advocating for compulsory vaccinations for teaching staff, as well as employees in other sensitive occupational groups, such as nursing.

The German government, however, maintains that it does not plan any compulsory vaccinations. 

Andreas Gassen, head of the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), also pleaded for states to get rid of compulsory masks in schools.

The chairman of the KBV told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND): “From my point of view, it is justifiable to do without masks in schools.”

Gassen said there were already regular Covid tests in schools – and added that children needed to boost their immune system by getting more exposure to viruses. 

“Due to the long periods of lockdown, social distancing and mask-wearing, children’s immune systems are now so untrained that they fall ill with viruses that previously did not affect them,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Education and Science Union (GEW) called for uniform rules nationwide on the issue of Covid protection in schools ahead of the meeting of education ministers on Thursday and Friday.

“The GEW appeals to the Conference of Education Ministers to agree on a common line on the issue of mandatory masks,” GEW leader Maike Finnern told RND. “We want schools to stay open during the cold season, that will not work without hygiene measures and concepts.”

READ ALSO: Germany doesn’t need a ‘Covid exit strategy like UK’, says Health Minister


Common cold – (die) Erkältung

Infectious diseases – (die) Infektionskrankheiten

Rise – (der) Anstieg 

Untrained – untrainiert

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

Member comments

  1. Yes, my 2yo brought back a cold from Kindergarten that has knocked me sideways with Bronchitis for the past month – sucks!

  2. My son started complaining of a sore throat 3 days ago, then a runny nose, now a slight cough. I’ve tested him three mornings in a row for COVID with negative results, but I’m still nervous. Hard to remember a time when other viruses were prevalent.

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.